Nature, Science

Attenborough’s Ant Mountain


The alpine mountains of the Swiss Jura set the stage for a natural drama – the epic tale of two cities. On the surface, they appear almost identical – but over the course of a year, these cities will experience dramatically different fortunes.

Like any city, they’re made up of social networks and transport infrastructures, to keep the inhabitants informed and fed. But unlike our urban jungles, these cities are made and run by wood ants

The story is told, almost like a medieval saga: David Attenborough is our guide through the mysterious realm of ants, presenting a cast of queens and workers, scouts and soldiers with all their amazing stories.

On one hand, there is a gigantic super-city with more than a thousand nest mounds. This ant metropolis functions thanks to cooperation – and by avoiding conflicts between the members of different mounds. As a result, this colony has grown into one of the largest animal societies on Earth, with a population as high as 1.2 billions. It has become a city of peace.

On the other hand, we see a single mound city that’s always at war with other single cities nearby. Tens of thousands of ants are killed each year in these intense conflicts. Their fierce and dramatic battles highlight a fundamental difference between the single nest ants and the peaceful ants in the super-colony.

The existence of these very different cities of the same species of wood ants so close together puzzles scientists. It challenges what they thought they knew about ants.

’Attenborough’s Ant Mountain’ sheds light on the mysterious origins of these extraordinary cities. Over the course of a year, we experience an ant’s eye view of the unbelievable drama, tenderness and aggression of life in the colonies. We meet a cast of wood ant characters that lead us into their secret lives. We delve into the remarkable mechanisms that have evolved within the super-colony and challenge theories about the evolutionary social behaviour of ants.

Filming ants has always been a challenge, but renowned producer and inventive cameraman Martin Dohrn is used to shooting things that are hard to get. For this production he used ‘Frankencam’, a unique modular camera system with high sensitivity and resolution that Dohrn has developed himself. ‘Frankencam’ allowed him to film ants from a completely different point of view.

4K-capable endoscopes and miniature 4K lens systems let us dive deep into the cities of ’Ant Mountain’, to reveal behaviour that hasn’t been seen before. From dramatic interactions between individual ants, to sweeping moves across battle scenes and supply lines, this film promises to put the viewer into the thick of the action like never before.

A Terra Mater Factual Studios production in association with BBC and ABC Australia produced by Ammonite Ltd.